Three Reasons Shame Doesn’t Manufacture Recovery

Way too often, people claim that shame, or confrontational interventions, can be a helpful situational tool in incentivizing lasting sobriety.

I absolutely cannot speak for everyone else’s experience and do not want to discount anything that has worked for others, but shame never did anything positive for me.

Here are three reasons I believe that shame is not a productive tool for recovery:

  1. People in recovery have been found to be more generally prone to shame and depression – This means that treatment based on shame is likely to be les successful, as Meehan et al suggest,”…the belief that drug-addicted people need harsh confrontations in order to recover has permeated the self-help components of treatment including Alcoholics Anonymous and other organizations. Recovering clients often describe the ‘tough’ approaches of their sponsors and fellow 12-step members. The results of this study call into question this widespread treatment assumption. Drug-addicted clients are described in this study as fragile and vulnerable populations. They appear to be highly prone to guilt and shame, excessively burdened by irrational feelings of responsibility and fears of harming others, as well as often being deeply depressed….It is suggested that treatment that addresses and attempts to modify the pathogenic beliefs that give rise to this irrational guilt and sense of responsibility may be far more helpful than is treatment focused on confrontation of externalizations, denial, and the appearance of irresponsibility. Source: Meehan, W. O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Weiss, J., Morrison, A., & Acampora, A. (1996). Guilt, shame, and depression in clients in recovery from addiction. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 28(2), 125-134.
  2. Children who are shame-prone are more likely to engage in risky sex and other addictive behaviors as they grow into adulthood. This means that shame does not as researchers put it “put the brakes on” risky behaviors. It seems unlikely that treatment or “support” measures that utilize shame are likely to restrict risky or addictive behaviors. Source: Stuewig, J., Tangney, J. P., Kendall, S., Folk, J. B., Meyer, C. R., & Dearing, R. L. (2014). Children’s proneness to shame and guilt predict risky and illegal behaviors in young adulthood. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 46(2), 217-227.
  3. Because shame-proneness is a consistent marker in addictive behaviors, therapy and support emphasizing shame-reduction would be more successful.  In other words, we should emphasize methods of shame-reduction instead of methods creating feelings of shame (that are likely to trigger acting-out behaviors). Source: Dearing, R. L., Stuewig, J., & Tangney, J. P. (2005). On the importance of distinguishing shame from guilt: Relations to problematic alcohol and drug use. Addictive Behaviors, 30(7), 1392-1404.

Yes, I understand these studies deal with different kinds of addiction, but I have yet to see any studies that suggest that shame (as opposed to guilt) generate positive sobriety.



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